We all have preconceived notions and prejudices that we carry through life. These can be baggage that serves to weigh us down and in other instances be helpful and uplifting. Absence may make the heart grow fonder but distance, physical separation, can make a heart indifferent or harsher. This is not a love story or a touchy, feelly description of how to create a better life for oneself. This is more about beliefs, prejudices and a smattering of politics.
Most of my adult life was spent in a large metropolitan area which exposes people to each other and to people and cultures which we may not understand. This exposure allows us to gain some familiarity with these other lifestyles which we may have no interest in. It does not necessarily mean we love these others but we perceive them as less threatening to our known and comfortable world.
Previously I would have daily contact with some people who appeared different from me. Hispanics from Central and South America perhaps who speak little or broken English, yet are different in appearance from the Spanish surnamed family who are third generation Americans living next door or down the street. Likewise the Haitians who came to this country, mostly Black and some White, speaking Creole are different from us but also from African-Americans. Further African-Americans who work with us, hold various professional and academic positions we view differently from African-Americans who live in the segregated parts of the city. There are others also including Native-Americans who may look and talk differently. Some have religious beliefs and practices which we might view as strange. The list can go on but let me stop here.
In an area where these contacts are a fairly common occurrence we may still possess our unfounded prejudices and dislikes but this familiarity reduces our “fear” of those who may be different from us in some way.
I now live in a smaller city in a state with a very homogeneous population which is overwhelmingly White-Anglo. In talking with people I don’t sense a hate per se of different people but a fear perhaps of the unknown. If you never met a Haitian for example how would you view Haitians? If your exposure is through the media what would your perception be? Keep in mind it is not the job of the media to report that 10,000 people went to work today and did a good job. News is that two people robbed a store and were arrested for some illegality. If one of these criminals was reported to be of some minority, then that may be all we know about a certain ethnic group. We probably couldn’t locate on a map where some of these people come from. Another source of information, particularly in this election year, may be political candidates and elected officials who may be lying or stretching the truth, in other words lying, to get elected.
Playing to the fears which people may possess is disgraceful at best. Likewise claiming to support some group only to gain their support is just as bad. Watching a mother and father who follow the religion of Islam explain that their son died for our country, America, may be viewed as cynical or simply politics by some people. Can you imagine being the person to knock on their door to tell them their son was killed in action? I don’t think anyone would be thinking this American soldier and family are Muslims. Opening your eyes in a hospital bed after a serious injury to a Spanish-surnamed doctor or nurse brings a smile to your face not a question about national origin. The African-American coworker helping the new employee learn the job and to understand the office procedures is viewed with gratitude by the new employee not with suspicion or fear.
The world has grown very small in recent times but too many of our neighborhoods have not. Many areas where people live are most homogeneous. If that serves as a barrier to our acceptance of people who may be different from us then that is a problem. The unknowing or lack of contact leads to fear which can be converted to hate and that is not just disgraceful but is deplorable. When you get to know people through direct contact, chance meetings, viewing on television, through the internet or perhaps actually sharing a meal, your perception changes through this close contact. In the words of a song by the late Harry Chapin “when you get that close, it’s kinda hard to hate.”
This is a great year to bring people closer with understanding. That is one of the main reasons I am voting for Hillary Clinton for President.